Strasburg woman paints a new outlook on life

Summer Abruzere paints the storefront window at Pot Town Organics in Strasburg. Abruzere paints local merchant's windows for free as a form of therapy for recovery from surgery for a brain tumor two years ago. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – This past Christmas, Summer Abruzere’s daughters gave her the greatest gift — a book of memories. The photo album was meant to remind Abruzere of what she meant to her family and who she was to them.

After having surgery to remove a lemon-sized brain tumor, Abruzere doesn’t remember everything the way she used to. Faces are particularly difficult for the 42-year-old substitute teacher to recall.

“A lot of my memory is from pictures,” she said. They’re “medicine for my memory.”

In the months following her surgery on Jan. 22, 2013, swelling on the left side of her brain made it difficult for her to use the right side of her body. While recovering, she suffered several concussions, leading to the onset of seizures.

She hasn’t yet recovered peripheral vision on her right side. But now confirmed seizure-free for longer than six months, Abruzere recently started driving again.

“I’ve come a long way,” she said. “I just have to keep telling myself that. I’ve come a long way.”

Recently painting “Vs” for Valentine’s Day on the windows of Pot Town Organics in Strasburg, Abruzere practiced what has become one of the happy surprises of her recovery – a newly realized interest in painting that works like physical therapy on her right hand and arm.

One of many Strasburg storefronts Abruzere has detailed with holiday-themed pictures or other designs, Pot Town Organics has happily welcomed the beautification effort co-owner Janet Heishman said has made a difference to employees and visitors.

“I think we’ve got a one of a kind thing going on here in Strasburg,” Heishman said. “I don’t know too many people who can do this.”

But Abruzere couldn’t always do this, and Heishman remembers all too well only a year ago when her friend had trouble just getting around following her surgery.

“You wouldn’t believe,” Heishman said. “She looks really good, I think she’s happy.”

Abruzere said she was shocked when a doctor discovered the brain tumor while examining her for an unrelated head injury.

The tumor was a meningioma, which typically displays few if any symptoms and is usually benign. Furthermore, Abruzere never noticed any symptoms of the tumor that, once removed, left 37 staples in her head. But she said the tumor had to be removed because it had already begun crowding her brain.

Six months after surgery, Abruzere thought she was on the mend, but close friend Angie Taylor of Winchester said nothing about Abruzere’s recovery has been that plain or simple.

She said she thought her friend would bounce right back after surgery. Instead, Abruzere had to relearn almost everything. When Taylor visited a few days after the surgery, Abruzere was weak from the surgery and didn’t remember much about her life.

Even now, Taylor said, “There’s a period in her life that she still doesn’t remember.”

The memories that elude her are seemingly unconnected, Taylor said. Abruzere might remember some childhood friends, but not recall others.

“She doesn’t remember who she went to prom with,” Taylor said. “But she has pictures. She lives through pictures.”

“She still has a long ways to go, but she’s gotten a lot better,” Taylor said.

Still on 15 pills a day to manage her blood pressure, headaches and seizures, Abruzere said although she might always have to take medication, she’s made progress simply in allowing herself to imagine such a possibility.

For much of the last two years she said she’s longed for a perfect recovery that might never happen. And that’s okay.

She said she’s learning to accept the frustrating parts of her recovery and trying to focus instead on how far she’s come.

“I’m having a hard time realizing, hey I could have died,” Abruzere said, “but on the other hand, I’m like, why can’t I get back to everything else that I used to do? You know, sure I can run to the grocery store now. [But] last year I couldn’t. I couldn’t drive.”

“I need to come back on my expectations and realize, you know what? I need to slow down. … I need to get my mind to slow down, and I need to enjoy every day,” she said.

After a good summer that included her first two road trips in almost two years, she said Christmas presented its own challenge when she had to stay behind from church services. The music from the hand bell choir is too loud for her now, and blinking lights can trigger seizures.

“I’ll always have challenges,” she said. “It just depends on which one wants to pop its head out that day.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com